Archive for April 2015


April 27, 2015

PowerUp Video games have used the “power-up” moniker for years to great effect.   Players are motivated to find those nuggets that will fuel their game icon with a boost of energy, super-strength, or extended powers. What happens in gathered Christian worship is hardly comparable in any way to Pacman, Super Mario Brothers, or Hedgehog, which were among the first to adapt the Japenese gaming idea of powering up into their products. Obviously, with gaming we are talking about an imaginary world designed to entertain us, whereas Christian worship is the essence of spiritual reality, mysterious and awe-inspiring as it can be, but real, with an ultimate purpose to usher in God’s Kingdom to an otherwise lost world. Another marked difference in this analogy, however, is that in the video games you can limp along and have some success apart from the power-up modules, but in order for Christian worship to be genuinely Christian there is only one means of empowerment. Apart from the Holy Spirit we are powerless. How sad for any of us to try worshiping apart from the presence and power of the Spirit. Scripture is clear. As we were reminded in a previous blogpost:

Apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. – Acts 1:8

Worship Ministry Leaders, it is essential that we work to hone our craft, become more skilled at musicianship, leadership, planning and organization. These human endeavors are built into our DNA and we believe placed there by God to be used for His glory in His Kingdom. It is imperative, however, to raise a caution banner. Whether you are a talented noted worship leader, a consummate choral conductor, or a soloist capable of stirring the emotions of the coldest listener, none of these skills in and of themselves empower genuine Christian worship. What’s more, within these capabilities lies the prospect for crippling temptations. It is far too easy for me to become enamored with my own voice when I am singing well, and thank God that He has given me the power to sing in such a manner, assuming He is blessing (and blest) because I am doing well. That is a natural tendency for those of us schooled in performing, whether our development has come through formal education or through the ranks of the entertainment field. Credibility too often rests in formal degrees or talent show trophies, when the desperate need of the church is for the Spirit to draw the Body of Christ together in a demonstrative display of His love, His power, and strength.

As a musician Worship Leader I could easily pick out some songs that speak to me, place them in an order that leads toward an emotional climax, prepare to present the set in a service and then pray that the Spirit will come and “power up” the experience as I am leading. Such a scenario almost sounds legit, doesn’t it? I sometimes hear prayers by Worship Leaders that follow this pathway. I believe that every time that is the case it is done with well-meaning intentions. It is rooted, however, in a blasphemous assumption that I have power to engage others in worship, and just need the Spirit for a boost so that we can power up to proverbial “next level” (problematic verbiage when talking about worship). Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is not a shot of mid-service espresso to call on when your spirit gets weak. No, the Holy Spirit is absolutely the only means of power for transformative worship where Jesus’ lordship is lifted high, where the Gospel is clearly proclaimed as the only means of right relationship with a holy God, where the ultimate purpose of life as glorifying the Triune God is unapologetically made clear.  As J.D. Grear points out, “God has never commanded us to go save the world for him; he has called us to follow him as he saves the world through us.” Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Italics mine. He did not say you will build your church and you can look to me when you need to power up.

Time and again the scripture exhorts us to wait on the Lord. When the songset is due for the website or bulletin that waiting can be a real challenge. Through it all, however, we must realize that the only means of power is God’s presence. No life is ever transformed apart from His work. Let us pray fervently that our worship houses will be built on the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit of God!

Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build it. (Psalm 127:1)


April 22, 2015

singing worship2It is an oft-heard complaint of Worship Leaders and Pastors who are paying attention. “Our people are not singing in worship.” What are we “doing wrong? What can we do?”

Common questions with all too common answers. Quite often they are answers that address the practical side of the problem, but miss the mark. Let’s take the question of “what can we do?” Reactions include the following:

  • New songs
  • Old songs
  • New updated arrangements
  • Modernized instrumentation
  • Relax the atmosphere
  • Change the lighting
  • Pump up the volume of the band
  • Turn down the volume of the band
  • Have the organ play louder
  • Have the organ quit playing – or just can the organ
  • Get a new leader that is younger with more experience – huh?
  • Send the Worship Leader out to observe worship in “successful” churches and do what they are doing

And the list goes on. We could debate the objective of each of these, and certainly could debate the observable results ‘til the proverbial cows come home. (it’s an old farm expression, millenials).

Can we hit pause a minute and consider biblical instruction? What do we do when our people are not singing in worship? Our inclination is to do what we can do. Quite frankly, we have been doing what we can do with abysmal results. I have heard it said that some churches can do what they do without the Holy Spirit. If this is so, and where it is so, surely we have completely lost our way. Pastor and hymn writer, George Atkins had it right back in 1819, “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.” Only the Spirit can bring us together in unity, place on display the power of the Gospel, and minister to everyone at once. Consider what the Word says to us:

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21) Italics mine.

Note the first exhortation here, don’t get drunk, be filled with the Spirit instead. Also note the repertoire of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” and the spirit of submission to one another – serving with a thankful heart. What a picture! Serving and singing. I would go as far as to say serving by singing. There is no press here for new, old, loud, or soft. The New Testament addresses the spirit of our singing, and the Spirit in our worship.  Our need is for singing in spirit and truth – and in the Spirit there is truth. One of the activities of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to us the truth of the Word. Remember what Jesus said to the woman at Jacob’s well at Sychar?

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Verily I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Hear what Pastor J.D. Grear says in his book, Jesus Continued, “The Holy Spirit was given to harvest what Christ’s death had purchased. Jesus had ransomed for himself a people from all nations, and the Holy Spirit had come to gather the harvest.” (pg. 52)

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

Consider, in our worship. The Spirit guides, speaks, and moves. In Acts the disciples are merely trying to keep up. “At their worst, they are obstructions. In fact they seem to spend a lot of time in Acts arguing with the Spirit (Acts 9:13-14; 10:14-16) (Jesus Continued pg. 26)

Jesus believed the Spirit would be a better teacher than even he was. “The Spirit could apply the Word more powerfully than he did, because he would speak it into the deep recesses of our heart at just the right moments.” (John 14:25-26; 16:5-14; 1 John 2;27-28) (Grear 26)

Apart from me, you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Holy Spirit, fill us with Your love and power that in our worship our singing might bring glory to You, Father, Son and Spirit. Give us faith to trust You as the sole source of power. Let our leaders apply the skills of their craft as You direct.

Let us love our God supremely, let us love each other too

Let us love and pray for sinners, ‘til our God makes all things new

Then He’ll call us home to heaven, at His table we’ll sit down

Christ Himself will gird himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.

                                                                        – from Baptist Hymnal 2008


April 13, 2015

empty-church Are any of you concerned as I am about the state of singing in corporate worship in many churches. As noted in my book, there are different gatherings for Christian worship besides the local congregation, but this address is aimed toward the local body and its weekly worship gatherings. I am old enough to call it congregational singing, and am concerned at what I see and hear in many church environments in relation to this foundational activity. I have been concerned for some time, and have attempted through numerous means to help bolster congregational singing as I believe it to be a critical aspect of worship renewal and also a reflection of the depth to which our worship has been and is being regularly refreshed. I have come to a conclusion, and I simply must share. It is profound.

Are you ready for this? I have concluded that there are at least two ingredients needed for congregational singing in worship and they are……(drumroll with crescendo, decrescendo, crescendo….. to extend the dramatic impact) as follows.

  1. First you need a congregation. That’s right, you need a congregation to have congregational singing in worship. Although it sounds ridiculously obvious to mention, the fact is that a lot of congregation’s have relinquished their responsibility in worship singing through various means starting with simply choosing to not be present for corporate worship. The New Testament Greek word for church is Part of what it means to be ekklesia, “the called out ones,” is to gather forming the worshiping body. Scholars tell us that, like the Hebrew word, quahal, that one of its clear meanings is assembly. Wayne Gruden says “We can understand the purposes of the church in terms of ministry to God, ministry to believers, and ministry to the world.”[1] Ministry to God includes singing to Him, for Him, and about Him. The Apostle Paul follows his admonition to “make the best use of the time” (Eph 5:16) with his exhortation to be filled with the Spirit and to be “singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” (vs. 19) If you aren’t present as congregation you cannot add to the worship singing. Have you ever noticed that churches build worship spaces to seat about half of their church membership? What does that say? I recognize some growing congregations meet in multiple services to accommodate the worshiping crowd using the same space multiple times, but many more simply have no expectation that any more than half the congregation will be together on a given Sunday. I fear that our pragmatist marketing attempts to attract non-attenders and make worship all about them, coupled with the fierce individualism that is a hallmark of present day attitudes have served to make consumers of spiritual buzz, and not disciples of Jesus Christ. Scripture does not separate coming to Christ from becoming part of His Bride. Participation in the assembly as an act of our discipleship is a given. (Hebrews 10:25)
  1. The second ingredient needed is singing. A packed house is a packed house and it has the potential in and of itself to inspire leaders and members. If, however, the full room never translates into the sights and sounds of worshiping people engaged with head and heart in biblical worship singing, then what do we have but a crowd of spectators? Again, seems leaders may be getting what they expect. Now, on this point I have to agree wholeheartedly with several of my colleagues who have joined in addressing numerous issues that thwart singing participation by the congregation (see links below). I wonder, though, just how much leaders actually allow, indeed expect, members to hold up the sounds of singing. This is noted as well in some of the links, but I want to underscore the need. It is far too easy for Worship Music Leaders to just make the music for them (the congregation). It is much more comfortable than taking the risk of assured discomfort in the momentary anemic sound of people not doing what is asked of them. However, in order to call the congregation to its responsibility of admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, it is my contention, they simply must feel the weight of that responsibility. Dropping the props and handing them the proverbial ball actually works. I have tried this often. It is disturbingly uncomfortable and awkward – until, that is, members begin to feel that discomfort enough to fill in the void with their own vocalization. I can testify that this CAN be done. We did not lull them into a couch potato mindset overnight and they are not likely to bounce out of it in an instant either, but give patient but firm and steady leadership and you may once again hear the pews alive with sounds of singing. Consider:

Do you and your people even know what it sounds like for them to be fully invested in singing?

Do they know what it feels like to sing in such a way that they sense their individual voice within the whole composite sound of corporate singing done by their own congregation?

In other words, do they know what we are aiming toward? Hopefully leaders know what you want your choir, band, or praise group to sound like musically. What about your congregation? Do you know? Do they know? Do all members of your choir, band, praise group, sound man, and/or senior pastor know what sound we are listening for when the congregation is singing? *This, I believe to be a starting point in the matrix of change toward giving the congregation back its song. A first clue for me is when platform players and singers want more of themselves in the monitor. Wha????? We need less of me and more of us!

If your worship singing needs a tuneup, how about starting by evaluating the two most basic ingredients needed for congregational singing? A gathered congregation, and participatory singing.

Links mentioned above:

They Are Not Singing Anymore by Mike Harland

Is Your Church Singing? Send in a Canary! By David Manner

Nine Reasons Your Congregation Won’t Sing by Kenny Lamm

How Loud the Worship Team? By Bob Kauflin

[1] Wayne Gruden, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan 1994) 867.


April 6, 2015

resurrection-jesus  Glorious Easter! I hope everyone reading this blogpost was able to worship on the Sunday of Pascha, sometimes referenced as the Christian Passover, and found the kinds of celebrative and spirited environments that I did on this special Sunday, the highlight of the Christian year. When serving in a local church I use to note lots of Easter Sunday attenders who were absent most of the rest of the year, and wondered how effective worship might be for them, but also recognized the importance of taking advantage of this opportunity to remind all of us of our blessed grace gift and mystery of our faith, Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!

One of the messages I heard Sunday was by Dr. Frank Lewis, senior pastor for First Baptist Church Nashville. Pastor Frank’s principle text was Mark 16, recording the traditional story of the powerful resurrection and the reactions of disciples that followed. In his application at the end of the sermon he reminded the church family of a previous service in which sins were symbolically nailed to a cross that remained in the worship space through the season, and was draped in liturgical white on this Resurrection Sunday. He reminded us of the transformative resurrection power that makes forgiveness of sins possible. I personally find such symbolic gestures and appropriate use of symbol in gathered worship to be very effective. He broadened the scope out a bit to note how often resurrection stories are a part of the ministry of the Gospel. He spoke of standing over the graveside of church members able to give comfort to families because of this resurrection story. He noted several illustrations where transformation took place and connected each as a resurrection story. These included such changes as those freed from substance abuse, deseased finding healing, and torn relationships being mended. These are resurrection stories fueled by resurrection power. This is why we must continue to sing with clarity the message of the resurrection, and the theme of deliverance at the center of the Gospel itself!

Lives again our glorious king, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

The Charles Wesley hymn is such an inspiration and declaration of victory! Like other Pascha hymns it captures something of the very spirit and significance of the Resurrection of Jesus. Through the season of Lent and particularly in recent weeks many of us have considered the reality and necessity of lament. Indeed we need others to know that we weep with those who weep. But thanks be to God our mourning is turned to dancing! Our night is turned to day! Death is swallowed up in the victory of our Lord Jesus, and we rest, stand, and live in Christ alone!

Sing of the resurrection and its transformative power over and over and over again! This is relevance! Our world is desperate for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some know it and many do not. We must continue our song, however, and continue our prayer that God Himself will open the eyes of the blind in that resurrection power. This is why we sing lyrics like those of another good hymn by our friends, the Gettys:

Words of power that can never fail

            Let their truth prevail over unbelief

We sing and proclaim a message of deliverance. Let us remain faithful in singing that message of deliverance so that the world will know that we were once blind, but now we see, that we were lost and now are found, that we were in chains and now we are free. Let us pronounce afresh the open arms of the Gospel, and pray the Holy Spirit will pierce the hearts of non-believers to show them the great hope available, such that

No guilt in life, no fear in death

            This is the power of Christ in me       

            …..til He returns or calls me home here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! That changes everything!


April 3, 2015

SVouet Having sung and directed The Seven Last Words, I have long found deeply moving the contemplation of all aspects of what takes place in this centerpiece of human history, when Jesus, the perfection of humanity, sheds His blood on a rugged cross to take away the sins of the world. The God – Man Who loves enough to set aside His own crown of glory to come into the world as a helpless babe in the first place lives out His last moments of full humanity in complete faithfulness atoning for our sin and making possible what we see so dramatically demonstrated in the curtain torn in two in the temple. The way is made open! How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be!!

While I recognize that the order of the seven last words are likely shaped by the traditions of liturgical practice, it is no less true that they come to us having been practiced in this way. It is beyond humbling to think that Jesus’ first utterance from this instrument of torture is “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Jesus knew His mission and shows such compassion in the face of His own torment. God so loved the world. Overwhelming!

Prayer on the First Word from the Cross

Almighty God, to whom your crucified Son prayed for the forgiveness of those who did not know what they were doing, grant that we, too, may be included in that prayer. Whether we sin out of ignorance or intention, be merciful to us and grant us your acceptance and peace: in the name of Jesus Christ, our suffering Savior. Amen.[1]

So many hymns flood my mind and spirit on this Good Friday, and with them a spirit of personal worship that causes me to feel I should bow my face into the floor and pour out my heart in all humility, and yet this same realization of Jesus’ finished work on that cross floods my heart with joy, and my mind with memories of blessed moments of praise, singing the story and joy of salvation with brothers and sisters in so many settings from the days of my childhood in churches where my dad pastored all the way up to services just this past Sunday joining with fellow church members singing the Fred Mallory arrangement of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This juxtaposition of emotional extremes also brings to mind the new hymn I have been singing throughout this Lenten season. It is a wonderful expression by our friends Keith & Kristyn Getty and Graham Kendrick, which proclaims,


Two wonders here that I confess, my worth and my unworthiness

My value fixed – my ransom paid At the cross.[2]


From pages that are much older, though similar in spirit, I find these words of John Newton and William Cowper that spring from their reflections on the First Word from the cross,

            “Father, forgive (the Savior said)

            They know not what they do:”

            His heart was moved when thus he prayed

            For me, my friends, and you.


            He saw that as the Jews abused

            And crucified His flesh

            So he, by us, would be refused

            And crucified afresh.


            Through love of sin, we long were prone

            To act as Satan bid;

            But now, with grief and shame we own,

            We knew not what we did.


            We know not the defect of sin,

            Nor whom we thus defied

            Nor where our guilty souls had been,

            If Jesus had not died.


            We knew not what a law we broke,

            How holy, just and pure!

            Nor what a God we dust provoke,

            But thought ourselves secure.


            But Jesus all our guilt foresaw,

            And shed his precious blood

            To satisfy the holy law

            And make our peace with God.


            My sin, dear Savior, made thee bleed,

            Yet didst thou pray for me!

            I know not what I did, indeed,

            When ignorant of thee.[3]

[1] Norman D Palsma “A Combined Tenebrae and Seven Last Words Service” in The Complete Library of Christian Worship, pg. 356.

[2] My Worth Is Not in What I Own,

[3] Father, Forgive Them from Olney Hymns, Book I.

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